Into the Heart of Borneo
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The story of a 1983 journey to the center of Borneo, which no expedition had attempted since 1926. O'Hanlon, accompanied by friend and poet James Fenton and three native guides brings wit and humor to a dangerous journey.
was parting with under protest (“But Redmond,” James had said, “what possible use could it be now you've been disarmed? What do you mean—it's a lucky cartridge belt, you've shot lots of pheasants with it? Redmond, you are an Ignoble Savage.”). The jungle around us was secondary jungle, a re-growth of thick vegetation, of tangled young trees and bushes and creepers on ground that had been felled, burned and cleared for a season's crop of hill padi perhaps ten or fifteen years ago. Rounding a bend
a stride or two. But the level of the river-bed suddenly dipped, long since scooped away by the pull of the main current. James lost his footing, and, trying to save himself, let go of the rope. I stepped back and across to catch him, the rope bound round my left wrist, snatching his left hand in my right. His legs thudded into mine, tangled, and then swung free, into the current, weightless, as if a part of him had been knocked into outer space. His hat came off, hurtled past his shoes, spun in
delight, sound its alarm. The musicians sat in front of us. An old man held a keluri, a dried gourd shaped like a chemical retort but held upwards, and with six bamboo pipes projecting in a bundle from its bulb; a group of young men sat ready with a bamboo harp (a tube of bamboo with raised strips cut from its surface), a bamboo xylophone, a bamboo flute, and a single stringed instrument, a dugout-canoe-like sounding box carved from a single block of wood, the string so heavy it had to be pulled
stumps of felled and burned giant forest trees rising a few feet above the crop. But gradually the Kenyah fields, with their accompanying temporary huts on stilts, became less frequent; and the primary jungle reasserted itself. We passed a tree in flower, a burst of red spikes in the unending, multitudinously various shades of green. Scattered across the square miles of jungle all the individuals of that particular species would be extending their scarlet invitation to a nectar-drinking party for
extinguished his half-smoked cigarette in the hotel ashtray, as fastidiously as if he had been wearing white gloves and was averse to dirtying their ends. “No,” said Thomas, “that is not my work.” For a bizarre moment I thought that James might be about to apologise for the faux pas, for having dared to suggest such a socially outrageous idea. “So what is your work, in your opinion?” “I shall be responsible for everything. We will visit one of my farms. I will introduce you to my own people,